Management of Lambs and Kids
Saving and Rearing Newborns

reviving chilled newborns | reviving starving newborns | helping mothers own their newborns | cross-fostering (grafting) | lamb coats | rearing orphans or newborns

Introduction: Good management and proper training can improve the lambing/kidding crop by 5%, and even up to 10% in flocks/herds where losses are generally high. The producer should focus on the following five areas, and every effort to enhance one’s skills in these areas should be made.

  1. Reviving chilled newborns
  2. Reviving starving newborns
  3. Helping mothers own their newborns
  4. Cross-fostering
  5. Rearing orphans and newborns removed from the mother

  1. Reviving Chilled Newborns: Newborns are subjected to an extreme temperature change, even if they are born in moderate weather. They have just spent nearly 5 months inside their dams at a temperature of 102° F, then they are suddenly dropped into the outside environment that may be 100 degrees cooler. This sudden change may be one of the most significant causes of death in very young newborns. It is estimated that greater than 10% of the lambs born alive never live to weaning age and that about 3/4ths of these die during the first week. Artificial warmth for the newborn will, in many cases, improve these statistics.

    Chilled newborns are often well on the way to death when found. They are usually only a few hours old and were probably born on a night that was cold, windy, or wet. These newborns may or may not have had a suckle of colostrum milk (first milk). A quick and easy way of determining a cold newborn is by placing a finger in the mouth. A cold mouth and a lack of a suckling reflex can be a great indicator of a serious problem.

    First, put the newborn in a warm place in a barn, shelter, vehicle, camp, or house. If possible, catch the mother or identify her with a dye pistol (a squirt gun with human hair dye), chalk, or paint mark for later identification. When there are several newborns to deal with, also identify the lamb/kid with spray paint, chalk, or crayon.

    One of the best ways of warming a newborn is to surround it with warm water bottles wrapped inside an old blanket, old burlap wool sacks, or similar materials. Infrared heat lamps, blow dryers, or just putting the lamb/kid wrapped up in front of a wood fire or stove will also work. Usually, when the newborn has revived it will become more active, show more alertness, make sounds, and begin moving around looking for milk. Caution should be used when any artificial or electric sources of heat are applied to warm the newborn. These sources of heat have a significant chance of burning the lamb/kid. Regularly test the surface temperature of the newborn with an exposed hand. If it feels too hot, it probably is hot enough to injure the newborn.

    Using Heat Lamps:
    One way of providing artificial heat to young newborns is to use an infrared, 250-watt lamp, suspended about 3.5 to 4 feet over the lambing/kidding pens or jugs. The mother and her newborn(s) should be confined in these pens for several days, depending on the strength and vigor of the babies. When using heat lamps, here are some important points to keep in mind:
    1. Although this bulb has a built-in-reflector, it is best to shield it with a metal reflector to prevent moisture dropping on it while hot.
    2. Be sure to fasten it securely so that it cannot fall on the bedding.
    3. Do not hang it within 18" of the mother’s back or it will burn the wool or hair.
    * When the newborn revives, get it nursing from its mother as soon as possible.

  2. Reviving Starving Newborns: If the weather is mild, mismothered or abandoned newborns may wander around for days, gradually losing their internal fat reserves before they die. Others may simply be too weak to consume adequate amounts of milk. The skilled producer can identify these newborns by their hollow-sided, gaunt, tucked-up look. The earlier they can be identified, the better the chance of saving them. Starving newborns may not necessarily need warming, but will need milk immediately. Lambs and kids that are less than 24 hours old will require colostrum. In addition, some should be given dextrose solution (or glucose), combined with amino acids and electrolytes (Biolyte).

    Giving Colostrum:
    Give a minimum of 150 mLs (5 oz) of natural colostrum as soon as possible. This amount should be given at least 2 more times in the first 24 hours of life. See page B520 for additional information on feeding colostrum.

  3. Helping Mothers Own Their Newborns: Persuading a ewe/doe to claim her newborn(s) can sometimes be very difficult. The problem is greater for new mothers that are giving birth for the first time. If a ewe/doe does not mother well 2 years in a row, she probably should be culled.

    Why does a ewe/doe fail to claim her offspring? There is no clear cut answer to this question. She may disown one or all of her newborns for a variety of reasons:
    1. A ewe/doe may deliver one baby in one part of the barn and a second baby in another part of the barn.
    2. The newborn may wander away from the mother before she has fully recovered from delivery.
    3. The ewe/doe may have a very painful udder because of swelling, caking, or infection.
    4. The teats may be cut or chapped, causing the ewe/doe a great deal of discomfort.
    5. A ewe/doe that has been in labor for a long-time may not be interested in her newborn for quite a while after delivery.
    6. Sometimes a ewe/doe may run a high temperature for several days after lambing/kidding and not show much interest in her newborn(s).
    7. Sometimes ewes/does that are very nervous and flighty may present problems.
    8. Some young ewes/does giving birth for the first time may be frightened by the newborn(s).

    It takes a lot of patience to work effectively with a ewe/doe that disowns her newborn. Keep in mind that it is much easier for the ewe/doe to raise her newborn than for the producer to raise an orphan. Many ewes/does separated from their own newborns will take them back without trouble. Others, especially maiden mothers (yearlings or first time mothers), are often reluctant to take them back and may need firm encouragement for 12-24 hours (or more) before they will. One reliable method is to tie the ewe/doe to the side of a pen with twine so that the lamb/kid can suckle without being kicked or butted. Other methods of grafting back a lamb/kid to its birth dam are available, and all have varying levels of success (see below).

  4. Cross-fostering (grafting): All producers are faced at some stage with orphaned animals or with mothers unable to feed them because of mastitis or damaged teats (i.e. shearing cuts). If a suitable ewe/doe is available, fostering is the easiest option in the long run.

    Various means can be tried to encourage the foster mother to accept the newborn. A traditional method is to attach the skin of the mother’s own dead baby on the orphan until the new mother accepts it. The use of lamb coats is an alternative to skinning a dead newborn. The mother’s sense of smell can also be overpowered or confused by smearing a strong smelling substance such as aniseed, various aerosol type products, or even the mother’s own milk on the newborn around its nose, face, tail and dock areas. The same substance should also be placed on the mother’s muzzle. A few special commercial products are also available for this purpose (U-Lamb or Mother-Up).

    Confine the mother and newborn in a restricted area with food and water until the relationship is firmly established. Hold the ewe/doe several times a day to ensure that the lamb/kid has a suckle, or tie her head up in such a way that she cannot butt or repel the newborn, but still reach her food and water.

    Lamb Coats:
    The traditional method of skinning a dead newborn and placing the skin over an orphaned newborn’s body maybe unappealing to some producers, or a dead newborn may not be available to use for the skin. To help overcome this problem, two products have been introduced to the U.S. market. These products are Fostercoat™ and Lamb Woolover™.

    1. Fostercoat: Fostercoat may be cut to any length required. The diagram shows suggested position and length of slits for legs and anal-genital area. Openings for umbilicus (navel) and the male genitals (sheath) are made after Fostercoat is fitted on the newborn. Fostercoat has a unique knitted 100% polyester pile construction capable of absorbing body odor when worn for a time by the natural offspring. The uses for Fostercoat include substitution fostering, add-on fostering, assisting in retaining body temperature, and for weather protection. After use, Fostercoats should be discarded or washed prior to re-use.
      1. Substitution fostering: Substitution fostering is most successful when started as soon as possible after the birth of a stillborn (dead) lamb/kid. To substitute an orphaned lamb/kid for a stillborn, pull the dead lamb/kid through the Fostercoat several times. This process transfers the birth fluids from the dead newborn to the Fostercoat. The newborn to be fostered is then fitted with the Fostercoat turned inside out and introduced to the foster mother. It is advisable to tape or tie the newborn’s legs for approximately 15 minutes to prevent it from sucking and to allow the ewe/doe to become familiar with the foster baby. Fostercoats may be removed from adopted animals 48 hours (2 days) after acceptance occurs.

      2. Add-on fostering: To add on an "extra newborn" to the ewe/doe who has only a single newborn but enough milk to raise twins, Fostercoat is fitted on both the natural lamb/kid and the lamb/kid to be fostered. After a few hours, the body odors are absorbed by the Fostercoats. The Fostercoats are turned inside out and then exchanged between the two newborns. The newborn to be fostered is then placed with the foster mother and her natural baby. Because add-on fostering is more difficult than substitution fostering, it is helpful to exchange Fostercoats several times to confuse the mother as to which newborn is her own.

    2. Lamb Woolover: The Lamb Woolover is a coat that also provides multiple uses for the producer. The Woolover coat is made of 100% wool and can be used for treating newborns with hypothermia, for grafting orphan newborns to a foster dam, and for protection from sudden weather changes. The Lamb Woolover is a durable product that can be re-used over and over again. It has no fasteners (velcro or string ties) that could cause chafing to young animals. Fitting for a newborn only takes seconds. The same company that makes the Lamb Woolover also makes them for goat kids and baby calves.

      1. Fitting procedure:
        • Roll the tail end of the cover forward. Grasp both front legs of the newborn in one hand and guide them through the front holes. Pull the cover up to the knees.
        • Push the newborn’s head forward through the neck opening.
        • Unroll the rear of cover and place each rear leg through the holes.
        * Each cover will offer beneficial protection and can be left on for 2-3 weeks. The covers will then only be suitable for recycling. To obtain multiple uses of each cover, they should be removed (weather permitting) after 3-4 days.

  5. Rearing Orphans or Newborns Removed from the Mother:
    1. Choice of Feed:
      Lambs -
      If it is available, ewe milk is the best option. A second choice would be goat milk, and a third choice would be full cream cow milk. All of these should be fed after the lamb has received colostrum. Lamb milk replacers can be used if other milk is not available. Cow milk is lower in protein than ewe milk. This means that when using calf milk replacer for lambs, it should be made up at a slightly higher concentration than what the label may recommend. Do not water-down cow milk – if anything, strengthen it with a small amount of milk replacer. However, do not over concentrate the milk. Over concentrated cow milk can cause constipation and death.

      If it is available, doe milk is the best option. A second choice would be ewe milk, and a third choice would be full cream cow milk. All of these should be fed after the kid has received colostrum. Kid milk replacers can be used if other milk is not available. The kid milk replacers usually have about 20-28% protein and 18-25% fat (homogenized). Because ewe’s milk is higher in fat and protein than doe’s milk, it should be slightly diluted before feeding to kid goats.

      When using natural milk from a ewe, goat, or cow, it is often heat treated to prevent the spread of diseases like caprine encephalitis and Johnes disease. This is particularly important when feeding goat’s milk to kids. The following procedure can be used to heat treat milk (not colostrum): Using a double boiler system, bring the desired amount of milk to 165° F and keep it there for 15 seconds. Let the milk cool, and then feed it to the lamb/kid. For colostrum heat treatment see B520.

    2. How to Feed: If only a few newborns are to be reared, the standard plastic pop bottle, fitted with an artificial teat can be used to hand feed each newborn. This works well but is very demanding and time consuming. If more than three or four newborns are to be reared, self-feeding "lamb bars" may be made or purchased.

      Lamb bars can handle up to about 30 lambs/kids and consists of a metal or pvc plastic tank with ewe/doe size artificial teats attached. The "lamb bar" can be shortened or only one side used if only a few lambs/kids are to be reared. Both round and square lamb bar buckets, fitted with teats are available from supply houses. All teats or nipples from artificial devices should be at least 12-14 inches above the ground level. Provide one nipple for every 2-3 lambs/kids. It is best to separate lambs/kids by age in groups of 10-20. Up to 30 lambs/kids per grouping can be fed, provided there is sufficient space.

      Each teat has a washer foot-valve inserted into its base to prevent leakage. This can be inserted quite easily by holding the teat open with the pliers normally used to expand elastrator rings (used for docking and castration). Commercially, ready-made teats or nipples are also available for quick attachment to lamb bar milk holding tanks. As an alternative, the teats can be set into the tank above milk level, with suction tubes instead of valves. This is quite satisfactory but the lambs/kids may be a little harder to start.

      1. Using the "Pritchard" teats in feeding orphans: New teats (nipples) are supplied with no hole in the end and thus must be cut before use. There are two different techniques to cut the teat. The common, older technique is to use sharp scissors and snip off the end of the teat. This means the more that is clipped off, the bigger the hole. Caution should be used to avoid making the hole extremely large. Another technique is to carefully make two slits in the end of the teat with scissors. The two slits form a ‘+’ or ‘x’ that snaps back together when not in use, creating a type of "self-seal." Most important, this self-sealing method of cutting the teat allows the bottle of milk to be left in an inverted position. This allows the lambs/kids to suck at their leisure without the loss of milk from the nipple. Many producers prefer the Pritchard teats over the larger, old-fashioned teat models still on the market.

        Old Method

        New Method

      2. The following list contains suggestions on proper sanitization and maintenance of artificial teats:
        • Be sure not to lose the tiny ball that rattles when teat is shaken. If it is lost, the teat will leak. This happens rarely and primarily only from washing the teats too aggressively.
        • Do not leave teats sitting in the sunlight or overheated areas. Especially do not leave them sitting on a window ledge or the dashboard of a vehicle. Sunlight from this "greenhouse" situation has been known to heat up the latex until it melts. Because areas of high heat are bad for this type of latex, it is best not to leave them close to an active stove or heater.
        • Do not use them without the latex inner ring. This ring, included free on "Pritchard" teats, enables an easy seal to all bottles. If the teat is used without the latex ring, the teat will make a very poor seal and will either leak or split.
        • Do not clean the teats in boiling water. Use hot water with a little dishwashing detergent and nothing more.
        • Do not use Clorox to disinfect them. The strong chemical reacts with the latex and can cause rapid disintegration.
        • Do not use the teats beyond 2 or 3 years. Latex tends to become sticky with use and prolonged exposure. Replacement is recommended every year.

    3. Bottles to Use: Pop bottles of various sizes work fine. Now that the latex washer is included, the teats may be used with plastic bottles as well as glass. Glass bottles disinfect better than the plastic. For newborns, using a plastic maple syrup bottle (the kind with a handle) works well. The shape allows the producer to squeeze the bottle as needed. In doing so, the milk can actually be pushed into the lamb or kid’s mouth. Because the bottle is clear, it is easy to see how much milk remains in the container.

    4. When to Feed and How Much: When hand feeding, start with four, 5-8 oz feedings per day. Gradually build this up to four, 16 oz feedings per day, depending on appetite. This should take about 2-3 weeks. Then go on to three, 24 oz feedings per day before weaning.

      Milk may either be fed four times a day, or be made available to the lamb/kid at all times ("ad lib" feeding). Milk that is fed four times a day is often warm and fresh. Milk that is made available at all times should be chilled (to prevent souring) before using to fill the lamb bar or continuous feeder. If the weather is warm, it may help to insulate the tank on the lamb bar. Lambs/kids fed continuously soon get used to chilled milk. Studies show that the best growth rates have been achieved with this method. The lambs/kids take a little milk every hour or so, just like they normally would from their mothers. These animals soon learn to regulate their intake. Because many lambs/kids die from eating too much, feed small amounts more frequently. Overfeeding can also bring about serious scouring conditions in artificially reared lambs/kids of any age. All equipment (bottles, teats, tanks) must be thoroughly cleaned each day to prevent the spread of intestinal infections. Chlorhexidine and bleach are commonly used.

    5. Weaning Off of Milk and General Management: Weaning often occurs at 8-12 weeks; well-grown newborns can be weaned after 4 or 5 weeks of feeding milk. A producer may also decide to wean the newborn once it has reached a "benchmark" weight of 2.5 times its birth weight. To help develop the rumen, be sure to have the lamb/kid on an appropriate creep feed prior to weaning time. Weaning should be abrupt, and it is best to get the lambs/kids on a dry starter like alfalfa pellets or grain mix, instead of straight onto lush pasture. These weaned lambs/kids can be placed on pasture after 7-14 days on dry starter. Good quality hays (preferably legumes, i.e. alfalfa, clover, pea, peanut, or vetch) or silage may also be used. Lambs/kids being fed harvested roughages like hay or silage should also have access to grain or grain mixes. All lambs/kids should have free access to clean, fresh water and a coarse ground, trace mineral salt at all times. Additional weaning diet information can be found on B580.